A Farmer's Integrity And Compassion

By , Staff Writer of The Christian Science Monitor

'You will observe," says Will Erwin, looking at the old photo of his wedding day, "that my best man was my father."

Take a look for yourself.

Snapped 50 years ago this month, the photo (upper right) shows a young Will trying vainly to pull the car door shut while friends and his new father-in-law dump rice inside. Will's father, Lewis, stands off to the left.

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"That typifies him," Will says. "He was thoroughly enjoying himself."

But he stayed on the sidelines. Still the father, a Quaker and a farmer, made a quiet, deep impression on the son.

"I don't think I ever met a more kind person than my father - kind enough to be tough," the Will recalls. "I never met a person more honest."

Family memories run deep. During World War II, Lewis Erwin ran out of gas-ration stamps for his car. Rather than use the stamps left over for his tractor, he walked 2-1/2 miles into town to turn in his excess stamps.

Today, Will farms some of the same rich Indiana soil his dad did. He lives in the house his father bought. Just as Lewis planted trees for conservation purposes, Will has converted a tenth of his farm acreage to grow black walnut, fir, and oak trees.

The timber will be worth something someday but not for quite a while. And somehow, that makes it all the more satisfying, Erwin says.

If there is a difference between father and son, it is that the son did not stay on the sidelines.

He served as state senator, ran for Congress and lost, then held various federal posts at the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Agriculture.

During the farm crisis of the 1980s, he served on the board that pulled the quasi-federal Farm Credit System out of a sea of red ink. And, rare for government, the board did it on time using only a third of its budget.

Oh yes, Erwin's father stood for office - once.

Friends drafted him for the county council. On election night, the son went to get something from his father's car and all his campaign literature fell out onto the ground.

It turned out that his father hadn't passed out a single piece of campaign literature. And he still won the election.

Later, the son would campaign vigorously - door to door, in fact - for the state senate. He didn't use his dad's methods, but he did rely on his principles.

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